Reviews: The Campaign, Shark Night 3D, Bel Ami

The greatest achievement of Shark Night 3D is that it managed to be even worse than this year’s Piranha 3DD. This film isn’t just awful to sit through, it is dreadful enough to consider being eaten alive by a shark as a less painful experience.

Directed by David R Ellis, the ingenious filmmaker who brought us such gems as Snakes on a plane and The Final Destination, the film neither offers the naughty fun of 3D gore and nudity nor any enjoyable thrills that one can expect in a modern Hollywood movie. Shark Knight 3D just lumbers along like a shark hit by a tranquilizing dart. First time writers Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg put together the most clich├ęd set of characters in a plot that can only exist in the 80’s. We’re introduced to a bikini clad bimbette attacked by a large shark, and then to the stock American idiotic movie teens  - the nerd (Dustin Milligan), the gym athlete (Sinqua Walls), the hot chick (Sara Paxton), and other kids who descend to a lake house for a weekend getaway. There is also an ex-boyfriend (Chris Carmack) and a racist redneck (Joshua Leonard) whose big teeth are supposed to foreshadow a sign of things to come from beneath the waters. Ooh, scary.

You’d have to be dumber than these kids to not figure out who dies first and who survives and how. You’d also have to be super smart to figure out why there are sharks in a salt lake. Speaking of which, the sharks are part CGI part animatronic, and they make for some hilariously bad special effects. The whole coming-at-you 3D gimmick is done way too many times to entertain, and since the majority of the film is shot in the dark, the dimming 3D only worsens the visual quality. Just like in the Piranha movies, these super strong ultra-aggressive mega-pissed sharks are given a backstory in an attempt to make us invest in the film, but the only thing one can care about is the time remaining until the end credits arrive. 

 Are you a fan of the Twilight movies? If not, the chances are that you’ll snooze through Bel Ami. But if you are, then you’re probably not wasting time reading a review of a Robert Pattinson movie; the film is strictly for folks who drool over the man.

Just like in the Twilight films, Pattinson has been struck by a curse – to live forever as Edward Cullen. He has been trying desperately hard to move on to more serious films like Water for Elephants and Cosmopolis but he continues to be known only for his vampire character. The curse lives on in Bel Ami, where he plays a desperate toyboy for a string of attractive ladies. Set in Paris in the 1890s, Georges Duroy (Pattinson) an ex-soldier finds luck when he meets a former comrade at a club and lands a job of a journalist with a popular French newspaper. To ‘get ahead’ in his career he begins a relationship with his comrade’s wife (Uma Thurman) but also falls in love with another woman (Christina) and is somehow forced to seduce his employer’s wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). The entirety of the film purely consists of Pattinson hopping from one bed to another battling guilt, remorse and lingerie. 

Bel Ami is adapted from the famous 1885 novel by Guy de Maupassant, however the film merely offers Twi Hards a chance to see Pattinson strip naked and canoodle various women. Directors Declan Donnelan and Nick Ormerod squeeze out every last drop of melodrama possible from a thin story, and Thurman and Thomas try their best to maintain a semblance of dignity amid the pasty faced hamminess of Pattinson. The guy is neither scheming, nor a suave genius nor a remorseful villain – he is the same eyebrow twitching, nonstop grinning character we have seen before multiple times. That’s not to say a better actor would’ve made the film any more interesting considering the story is pretty much antiquated. 

The Campaign attempts to satirize the current election in America but more often than not it misses its target. How much you enjoy the film depends heavily on how much you like its hilarious leads Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.

Directed by Jay Roach, famous for his Austin Powers and Meet the Parents films, The Campaign is a moderately fun comedy, albeit not particularly a razor sharp satire that one expects it to be. It gets many things right but it lacks the panache found in British political comedies like In the Loop. Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, the four-term Democratic congressional incumbent in a North Carolina district, and along with his wife (Katherine Lanasa) and his campaign manage he expects to win his fifth term. Unfortunately for him, two business brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) plot something sinister by inputting a rich businessman’s stupid son (Galifianakis) as the stooge to increase their profit. Seeing as the son is a moron, they hire a campaign manager for a full on makeover and prepare him for the campaign. Brady laughs at the newbie first, but he soon finds himself in hot waters. 

Ferrell and Galifianakis have a blast in their roles and there is abundance of their trademark boisterous goofiness. It’s not surprising that Roach cast these two in the lead – they are the masters of on screen buffoonery. Their exchanges play out like skits of Saturday Night Live, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However despite flashes of excellent comic timing The Campaign becomes a wobbly satire. Towards the middle Chris Henchi’s screenplay gets stuck in a muddy puddle and fails to go whole hog with its intentions. Majority of the film is either too farcical or not farcical enough – it gets monotonous to wait for Roach to hit the sweet spot. Moreover, the film rarely treads outside the safe zone, and one feels kind of cheated to watch an A-rated political satire that is politically correct. On the bright side the film runs a swift 80 minutes, if you’re looking for harmless laughs this weekend then this might just be the film for you. 

(First published in MiD Day)

Movie Review: The Expendables 2

If you’re a guy who loves 80’s action cinema, you’ll like The Expendables 2. If you’re a woman who liked beefy 80’s muscles, then this film will make you stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen. 

With a star cast of the hammiest ham hocks ever put together on screen, The Expendables 2 is how The Avengers would be if it were made in the 80’s. From delivering some of the worst ever written lines to flexing every inch of botox laced muscle on their bodies, the heroes of The Expendables 2 make your face meet your palm in the grandest possible manner. You get Sly Stallone, who looks like a genetic experiment gone horribly wrong slurring with the panache of an old uncle trying to impress kids; you get Jason Statham who practically hurts his face trying to keep it straight the whole time; you get Dolph Lundrgen who is so expressionless and inhuman he has now well and truly transformed into the Universal Soldier; Terry Crews, Jet Li and Randy Couture all of whom behave like they are stuck in a party full of drunk old timers. 

Joining in the fun is the ‘villain’, Mister Jean Claude Van Damme, complete with his awesome roundhouse kick, and the duo of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger who have extended roles in this sequel. Without spoiling too much, it is safe to say that Chuck Norris makes the single most entertaining Chuck Norris joke when he arrives in the film. It’s rather difficult to remember what the ‘story’ is, but it has something to do with Barney’s (Stallone) gang of the Expendables being forced by a CIA agent to fly off to Albania for a mission, and ending up pissing off a very bad guy. In a revolutionary leap in storytelling, this time, it becomes personal for Barney, and he is faced with the task to overcome all odds for vengeance. Needless to say, the walking beefcakes on screen simply shoot down all semblance of a plot and proceed to do what they do best – hurl cringe inducing one-liners and annihilate baddies and their stooges in various ways. Somewhere in the overflowing torrent of masculinity, there is Yu Nan as a female Chinese technical expert, whose instructions in the film seem to be 'hold gun, look hot, don't talk'. Young Liam Hemsworth appears as a Sniper but does more damage to art of acting than his gun does to people's heads.

Director Simon West brings most of the dumb fun from his Con Air in The Expendables 2. He seems to have been the perfect choice to helm this movie what with the overwrought nostalgia, possibly due to his sensibilities being outdated in 2012. There’s plenty of ludicrous action, though placed between several boring over-serious meandering conversations. Schwarzenegger is by far the best thing in the film and one wishes it had more of him – it’s great to see him fire a big freaking gun and toss his larger than life persona as a joke. One hilarious exchange between him and Willis’ character is itself worth the price of admission.

Watch The Expendables 2, eat Chili and spit it like a boss, and then fuggetaboutit. Here's looking forward to the in-development Female Expendables movie, which will also probably star Liam Hemsworth.

(First published in MiD Day)

Movie Review: Ek Tha Tiger

Salman Khan movies result in drinking games. In his latest blockbuster Ek Tha Tiger, you’re advised to gulp down a peg every time he breaks the fourth wall or grins. So with every gulp the screen becomes blurrier and the movie gets less painful – bottoms up for that is precisely what it takes to make it through to the end.  

This is how you make Agent Vinod and Don 2 look good - you turn the protagonist into a full on secret agent man, reduce the overall IQ to half, swap Kareena or Priyanka for Katrina, and replace the lead hero with an actor who has absolutely no public goodwill to lose. Ek Tha Tiger seems like the result of what happens when you give zoo monkeys a camera and a crew to work with, because it is a film so inane that it pretty much runs on chronic stupidity. And without a doubt it will satisfy the low entertainment thresholds of those who scream at the very sight of Sallu Bhai and whistle when his bare abs make an appearance. 

To be fair, the opening 20 minutes do make you believe that you’re in for a fun ride – Sallu takes a giant dump on Jason Bourne and runs and punches through a super action scene in Iran. It’s hard not to enjoy an ash tray overturning in slow motion and zooming in on Sallu Bhai’s visage to the backdrop of a rain of cigarettes. Alas, after that fun opening we’re left dealing with an unfunny comedy romance filled to the brim with idiotic characters, horrid dialogue, and some laughably bad performances. Director Kabir Khan displayed his knack for clumsy filmmaking with New York and Kabul Express but at least he didn’t resort to irritating melodrama in those films (they had a whole other typhoon of cringe-inducing plotting). 

Perhaps we have cowriter Neelesh Mishra to thank for this mess. As always, the ‘story’ is an excuse to slap on a bunch of ‘hey look it’s Sallu Bhai, whistle you guys!’ scenes together. Codename Tiger is a RAW agent with an oeuvre of super-secret commando missions. He is sent undercover to London to reconnoiter a professor (Roshan Seth) but falls in love with Zoya (Katrina) and this for some reason compromises his mission. In a stunning, completely unexpected twist Zoya turns out to be a rival agent. If you consider this as a spoiler then I will be forced to assume that you have never seen a movie before. What would Tiger and Zoya do? Kill each other? Or go the whole hog? Watch the movie to unravel the epoch busting mystery! 

In his droopy-eyed stardom Bhai simply runs around with his puffed up face and botox packs practically falling out of his pockets. Because he is playing a RAW agent, Bhai tries to be serious – by wrinkling his eyebrows like Joey Tribbiani. When he isn’t bufooning around Bhai does most of his own stunts – like inverting a dining table and sliding down stairs while shooting people. Bhai even makes Spiderman’s epic train stunt look like child’s play as he stops a whole tram using his suit blazer (after which he simply dusts it off and wears it). These are fun moments, but sadly there aren’t enough of them. Katrina is grotesque as she spouts all her dialogue affecting a sense of mental impedance. For being two top ranked agents, the characters’ motivations are hilariously stupid – in fact Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunn from Dumb and Dumber could beat these two agents in an IQ test.

Part of the blame goes to the editors because Ek Tha Tiger wasn’t cut so much as thrown into a blender and maimed to pulp. It almost seems like Sallu himself edited the film, and when lines like ‘Kutte ki tarah haaf raha hai, kitne cigarette peeta hai’ can't redeem a movie, the film has gone spectacularly wrong. Worst of all are the ham-fisted holier than thou ludicrous attempts of sloganeering peace between India and Pakistan. And if all that weren’t enough you get to witness Roshan Seth who in the most thankless role seems like he is apologizing to us for his bit in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

A film of unremitting idiocy disguised as an upmarket big budget action movie, Ek Tha Tiger is about as reprehensible as masala comes, even in our decreasingly intellectual times. Do yourselves a favor and watch The Hero: Love Story of a Spy – at least it offers a ton of unintentional hilarity. 

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

A franchise with a story that ended on a thoroughly satisfying note and gave closure to its audiences – is it possible that it has anything more to offer? The answer is a resounding YES!

When we left Bourne five years ago, he was seen jumping off a building into a freezing lake and swimming away to Moby’s music. He had discovered who he really was, had uncovered a major government racket and had put several slimy federal agents and their bosses behind bars. In The Bourne Legacy, Tony Gilroy, the writer of the first three movies takes on the directorial duties and brings a fresh new addition to the universe. And surprisingly, the fourth film doesn’t feel like a cash grab as much as a genuinely thrilling, fun expansion to the story. Mr Bourne does not make a return but everything that made those films entertaining does. 

The Bourne Legacy cleverly weaves in and out of the timeline of the previous three films – we’re introduced to Aaron Cross, an agent who has been receiving the same training as Bourne. However things have gone haywire since the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, and CIA honcho Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who heads the super-secret Outcome program which implements mysterious drugs to create super soldiers is under hot water and fears exposure. He has no choice but to tie up all the loose ends and eliminate all the agents who were subjected to the black ops program. Aaron is now on the run and his only way to freedom and survival is a biochemist (Rachel Weisz). What follows is a smart hybrid of Bourne and Gilroy’s film Michael Clayton as Aaron runs, jumps, pummels, drives his way through Byers’ hitmen.   

As was the case with the previous three movies, The Bourne Legacy doesn’t the least bit follow the book that it is based on. Gilroy, co-writing with his brother Dan and having his other brother John doing the editing is a fascinating filmmaker. The one thing that made the previous two films so exciting was the gritty shaky camera, however Gilroy just forgoes that technique and instead brings a glossy, glamorous feel to the film, yet keeping the grittiness intact. It’s a nice change, seeing as the shaky cam has been ripped off by nearly every action movie and TV series since 2007. The film itself is slightly low on big action scenes compared to Ultimatum, but that is offset with the airtight plotting and the star Jeremy Renner who finally gets his due as a Hollywood lead. Naturally, Renner has nothing on the sheer magnetism of Matt Damon but he’s still a believable action hero and seems completely devoted to his role. Weisz is only slightly more fleshed out than Franka Potente as the token heroine in the previous movies but Norton seems wasted in his role – there’s hardly anything antagonistic about him, and hopefully he’ll be better explored in the next film. The only major disappointment is the Bollywood style finale and your opinion of it will depend heavily upon how much you liked Gilroy’s previous movies.

The Bourne Legacy is an engaging and imaginative fourth installment. Hopefully in the next film we’ll see Aaron teaming up with Bourne to kick various layers of ass.

(First published in MiD Day)